As part of our look at Colorado’s extreme jobs in May’s “Risky Business”, we called up Pueblo-based Professional Bull Riders, Inc. and tracked down a Colorado world champion who pays the bills by riding bulls.
Name: Kody Lostroh
Occupation: Professional bull rider
Location: LaSalle, Colorado
Biggest Accomplishment: 2009 World Champion; 2005 Rookie of the Year
Compensation: Varies. Of 35 world championship finalists, the last-place riders earn $50,000 to $60,0000 a year. The champion makes between $1.4 and $1.6 million.
5280: You must be on the road a lot.
Kody Lostroh: If I’m healthy, typically I’m gone at least three days a week, every week. We have events in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia… We have a major league series and a minor league series. You’re looking at between 30 and 60–70 events. At each of those events, we’re getting on two to sometimes six bulls.
5280: You’re injured right now?
KL: Kind of. I tore up my thumb and I’ve been dealing with that and it hasn’t been getting much better.
5280: What motivates you to get out there?
KL: The challenge of riding something that you’re so outmatched against. Kind of an underdog story, you know? And, actually, the danger, the fear, and the possibility of death is kind of exciting, too. Not that I want to die or anything, but when you’re very close to that side, you feel very alive. I think it’s something all adrenaline junkies thrive on—the danger aspect of the things they do.
5280: So you’d call yourself an adrenaline junkie.
KL: Yeah, yeah I would. I like doing things that scare me a little bit: sky diving, hunting dangerous animals…anything that gets my butterflies going.
5280: Have you ever been seriously injured? Tell me about one of your rougher rides.
KL: I broke my back when I was 15 the first time. It was a little bit scary, the way I went down: I was laying flat on my stomach and the bull jumped up in the air and came down with both back feet in the center of my back.
5280: What else have you broken?
KL: I don’t have a count, but…back, ribs, legs several times, eye socket, cheek bone. Stuff that breaks easily, I guess. I could sit here and name stuff all day long. Every bull rider can.
5280: So you have a high threshold for pain.
KL: You just try to block it out. We might get too good at it sometimes.
5280: Do you just visit emergency rooms everywhere you go?
KL: There’s plenty of times where we get stitched up right there in the locker room and go right back to the competition. If you have to go to the hospital, you go. You do what you gotta do. In a period of eight months, I had to get three surgeries on the same arm. Obviously at that point you have to take some time off to let stuff heal correctly.
5280: How did you get into the rodeo world?
KL: I saw a tape of Cheyenne Frontier Days when I was six and I wore that thing out watching it over and over. I just loved the bull riding. So my mom signed me up to ride steers at the fair—the junior rodeo in Longmont. I went and got thrown off and thought it was the most fun thing I’d ever done.
5280: Right before the gate opens and the bull goes crazy, what’s that like?
KL: It’s a pretty awesome feeling being on top of a bull, because they’re nothing but muscle. Some of them are so anxious to get out of the chute—you can feel their muscles just shivering, and you know you’re on top of a pretty cool animal athlete. It’s kind of my quiet time, actually. We turn off our minds and try to react. We’re not just trying to hang on, and you can’t really think your way through a ride. We have a split second to react to what the bull’s doing so we try to be quick and agile. That moment when you climb in the chute, that’s almost the calm before the storm. I’m hidden away in my own mind somewhere and I’m not aware of anything else going on except me and the bull. After you ride and buck off and make your escape, that’s when the adrenaline hits you. If you make a really good ride and you know it and the fans are cheering, it’s a pretty cool feeling. It goes back to getting the best of something that should have gotten the best of you.
5280: So it’s not just about hanging on for dear life.
KL: One misconception people have is that bull riders are just dumb cowboys that go out and just try to hang onto a bull. Maybe it used to be like that, but these days, with so much money up for grabs and as dangerous as it’s gotten with the bulls being so much better, there’s not a guy out there who’s not a gifted athlete. It’s about training and learning how to be explosive, quick, agile—not necessarily a body builder, because you’ll never be stronger than the bull.
5280: Do you ever question why you put your body through this?
KL: Not while I’m getting ready to compete. I know any day could be my last day. But I’m not real worried about dying. There are more dangerous things in this world than a bull. I choose not to live in fear of it.
—Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bullstockmedia.com